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Judging Gays

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jan 16th, 2014 at 08:39:00 AM EST

Why do religious gay bashers claim they are only preaching the Gospels when in fact they generally quote St. Paul rather than Jesus in support of their homophobia and misogyny?
McAleese and church stance on gays - Letters | The Irish Times - Thu, Jan 16, 2014

Sir, – Fr Patrick McCafferty (January 15th) states, “The church unequivocally proclaims the message of the Gospel ” and goes on to quote twice from Romans in support of his argument concerning homosexuality and church teaching. As he is no doubt aware, Romans is not, in fact, a gospel. Why is it that the opponents of gay rights generally quote St Paul rather than Jesus? Could it be because Jesus never actually condemned homosexuality, and indeed healed the centurion’s sick pais (male servant/lover)? – Yours, etc, FRANK SCHNITTGER

Former President Mary McAlease has stirred a bit of a hornets nest with her comments on the Catholic Church and homosexuality:

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Transformation of an economy

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 27th, 2013 at 03:09:50 AM EST

Since 2007 the number of people employed in the Irish economy who do not have a secondary education qualification has reduced by 50%. The numbers of people employed who do have only a secondary educational qualification has reduced by 20%.  But the numbers of people employed with a tertiary educational qualification has increased by 12%.

Many will view this as confirmation that Ireland is being transformed into a knowledge based economy. Another way of looking at it is that the working class in Ireland has been devastated by the recession, whereas the middle class has (relatively speaking) prospered.

There are many factors at play here: The devastation of the Irish construction sector since 2007; the rise in participation rates in tertiary education; and the growth of the mostly foreign owned multinational companies in the ICT, pharmaceutical and services sectors.

Many employees who did not have a third level qualification in 2007 will have retired from the workforce or have achieved a third level qualification since. Most of the new entrants into the workforce since 2007 will have had a much higher level of education than previous cohorts, and some of these will have come from a working class background.

However the educational system is still overwhelmingly the mechanism by which the middle class can propagate itself:

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Nelson Mandela RIP

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 6th, 2013 at 02:09:57 AM EST

I first became aware of Nelson Mandela in a personal way, when, as a 17 year old undergraduate student, I came in contact with South Africans who had been banned by the Apartheid regime for their political activities and who were now campaigning for an end to Apartheid throughout Europe.

Basil Moore, author of an anthology of Black Theology which included a contribution from Steve Biko had been banned for campaigning against Apartheid in his role as General Secretary of the South African University Christian Movement.  He lived under house arrest, his neighbours hung and strung up the the family pet from a lamp post outside their home, and he eventually escaped by sneaking across the border into Zimbabwe. Eva Strauss was banned for marrying a black man (and also perhaps for her outspoken political and feminist views). Colin Winter, Bishop-in-exile of Namibia had been deported for his opposition to Apartheid in Namibia and support for striking migrant workers.

All spoke with a moving personal touch. Politics was no longer some remote political struggle thousands of miles away. It wasn't just a cerebral and ideological battle: It was about how you lived your own life; it was also about the struggle against racism here at home. It was about the structures of international capitalism which made Apartheid possible, and which could also be part of its downfall.

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Unions 1, Plutocrats 0

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 5th, 2013 at 04:09:49 PM EST


The owners of England's 12 elite Premiership professional rugby clubs have confirmed that they are pulling out of next years Heineken Cup, the elite European professional Rugby Union Club competition, having failed to persuade their French counterparts to join with them in a breakaway "European Rugby Champions Cup". This means that (just as in 1998/99) the Heineken Cup will be competed for just by the leading French, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian Clubs. It is unclear, at this stage, whether English clubs will compete in the secondary Amlin Cup, which is also open to clubs from other European countries.

The dispute centred on money - the shareout of the proceeds of TV rights, the qualification process, and governance, with the Clubs wanting to take over the running of the competition from the ERC, which is in turn run by the National Unions of France, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy. Up until now, each national Union was guaranteed a specified share of the proceeds and the number of clubs from each country which would qualify. This had the effect of ensuring that weaker countries, (and smaller commercial markets) had a guaranteed share of the spoils.

The smaller Unions - Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Italy - agreed that in future the qualification process and share of the proceeds would be shared equally between the three major leagues - the English Premiership, the French top 14 and the Rabodirect Pro-12 - which would effectively mean that the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Welsh Unions and their clubs would collectively receive no more than one third of the qualification places and share of the spoils - the same as the English and French Clubs.

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Bailing out the austerity hawks

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 5th, 2013 at 12:59:40 PM EST


Ajai Chopra (left) of the IMF and an unidentified colleague pass a beggar as they make their way to the Central Bank in November 2010. Photograph: AP

It's easy to be Snarky about Ireland exiting the Troika Bail-out on the 15th. December, but it really is a big deal for the Austerity Hawks: It proves (to them) that they were right all along, and that austerity "works". Ireland is the shining poster child to be waved in front of Greece, Spain, Portugal and every other prodigal state should they waver from the approved path of austerity. Some in Ireland are attributing historic significance to the bail-out exit, whilst others see it as merely escaping the tyranny of the Troika for the tender mercies of the international sovereign debt markets.

But it also does no good to deny that a significant economic recovery is now underway in Ireland (from a very low base), so does this prove all the Keynesians wrong? I would argue that neither proposition is correct: Ireland has succeeded (insofar as it has) for neither the standard Austerity or Keynesian reasons and has done so due to factors that are mostly non-generalizable to other economies. To understand the Irish recovery, you have to understand an almost unique combination of factors that is making it possible.

Given that the scope and sustainability of Ireland's economy is still under debate, I will begin by offering some evidence for and against the recovery hypothesis and then suggest some reasons as to why it might be happening.

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Ryanair Reborn? - now with Poll at no extra charge

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 25th, 2013 at 12:57:35 PM EST


Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary

Ryanair has long been a source of a national embarrassment in Ireland. On the one hand it is one of the few truly successful Irish owned corporates which have succeeded in growing global in scope. On the other hand, it's corporate ethos, anti-union attitudes, and poor customer service and public relations have been... well embarrassing is perhaps too kind a word.

Recently the controversial Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary, has apparently had a blinding revelation on the road to Damascus. He has come to realize what many of us have known and been saying for years: his persona and the corporate culture that has grown from it have become a threat to Ryanair's ongoing growth and development.  What was once a successful business model for a brash small start-up taking on the staid and expensive national flag carriers and aiming mostly for the young back-packer market - is now not helping Ryanair to continue to expand market share from its current position as the largest airline in Europe.

Many travelers now refuse to fly with Ryanair almost on principle; some because of its anti-union attitudes, some because of some bad experience with rude staff, some because the Ryanair website has become extremely awkward and irritating to navigate, and some because they do not wish to be herded like cattle and have to endure uncomfortable seats. This has meant that Ryanair passenger numbers have been rising more slowly than its major rival, Easyjet, despite the fact that Easyjet generally charges higher fares on its routes. Whilst trying to portray Ryanair's often low fares as a virtue, in reality, they have become a necessity if Ryanair is to attract passengers from other airlines - even when others are considerably more expensive.

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Irish Budget abolishes corporate tax avoidance schemes

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 15th, 2013 at 02:02:11 PM EST

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan delivered his 2014 budget to the Dail today - about 2 months earlier than usual to give the European Commission more time to review and approve its provisions. Taoiseach Enda Kenny had announced last weekend that Ireland would exit the bailout programme on December 15th., so this is the last budget to be overseen by the Troika.

The Troika had sought to insist that Noonan take 3.1 Billion (= 1.9% of GDP) out of the economy in tax increases and spending cuts, a call supported by the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Government has restricted this to €2.5 Billion (= 1.5% of GDP) made up of spending reduction (€1.6 Billion) and tax increases of (€0.9 Billion).

This is planned to reduce the budget deficit from 7.3% in 2013 (Troika target 7.5%) to 4.8% of GDP in 2014 (Troika target 5.1%) and 2.9% in 2015. This should be sufficient to generate a small primary surplus next year and reduce the overall Government debt to GDP ratio to 120 percent at end-2014, 118.4 percent at end-2015 and 114.6 percent at the end of 2016. Despite this contractionary policy, the Government is forecasting 0.2% GDP growth in 2013, rising to 2.0% in 2014.

From a US perspective it is noteworthy that Ireland's national debt and projected annual deficits are much higher than that of the USA and yet no one is panicking. On the positive side, at least we have a functioning budgetary process!

Of more interest to international observers, Mr. Noonan has announced that companies will no longer be able to incorporate in Ireland without also being tax resident here, and so will not be able to use tax avoidance schemes like the double Irish and dutch sandwich to evade the Irish corporation tax rate of 12.5%. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have been in the news recently for utilizing such schemes to move Billion of Euros to tax havens like Bermuda virtually tax free.

The issue of low Irish corporate tax rates is reported to have surfaced in German coalition talks between the CDU and SPD, and so the timing of this change may not be entirely unrelated. Whether he is doing Merkel a favour or seeking to relieve pressure on Ireland to increase it's 12.5% Corporate Tax rate is unclear. The measure is not scheduled to kick in until 1st. Jan, 2015 and so will not effect revenues for 2014. It has not been stated how much additional revenue the Minister expects to collect from this measure in future years, and whether he expects some multinationals to relocate outside Ireland in response to his change.

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Government attempt to abolish Irish Senate defeated

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 6th, 2013 at 02:05:48 AM EST

Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel on the evening of April 7, 1775, but perhaps it is populism which is the last refuge of the modern political scoundrel. Ever since the Irish economic crash and the failure of the political system to properly regulate, and then resolve the Irish banking industry, politicians and politics have often been seen as the most egregious form of low life in the country.

Seeking to capitalize on this unpopularity, the Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, decided, almost on a whim, that it would be a good idea and an easy win for the Government parties to propose the abolition of the Irish Senate in a referendum to be put to the people. Despite a range of opinion polls showing large majorities in favour, that strategy has just blown up in his face with a narrow 52 to 48% majority of the electorate voting against his proposal.

The main arguments being put in favour of the abolition of the Senate where that:

  1. The Senate has relatively few powers under the Irish constitution and generally has a significant built in Government majority thanks to the Taoiseach having the power to nominate 11 members.

  2. The lack of a popular mandate. Some Senators are elected by University graduates only, and most of the others are elected by local county Councillors to represent notionally vocational groups but are in practice mostly politicians who failed to win election to the Dail or lower chamber by universal suffrage.

  3. Numerous proposals to reform the archaic nature of the Senate electorate have to date come to nothing.

  4. A small country like Ireland doesn't require a bicameral system of governance.

  5. Abolishing the Senate could lead to an annual cost saving of up to €20 Million p.a., although this figure is disputed and is in any case trivial in comparison to the cost of the public service as a whole.

Nobody on the NO campaign side sought to deny that the Senate was in need of fundamental reform, although proposals for reform varied greatly. But what the NO vote did perhaps indicate was that the electorate wanted more political accountability, not less.

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The EU Stupid Expands

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 12th, 2013 at 01:10:59 PM EST

Paul Krugman has again been making some apposite comments on the EU economic crisis. First he slams Olli Rehn [European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro] for being an ideological neo-liberal contemptuous of French democracy and with no real interest in furthering economic recovery in the EU:

The Austerian Mask Slips - NYTimes.com

Simon Wren-Lewis looks at France, and finds that it is engaging in a lot of fiscal austerity -- far more than makes sense given the macroeconomic situation. He notes, however, that France has eliminated its structural primary deficit mainly by raising taxes rather than by cutting spending.

And Olli Rehn -- who should be praising the French for their fiscal responsibility, their willingness to defy textbook macroeconomics in favor of the austerity gospel -- is furious, declaring that fiscal restraint must come through spending cuts.

As Wren-Lewis notes, Rehn is very clearly overstepping his bounds here: France is a sovereign nation, with a duly elected government -- and is not, by the way, seeking any kind of special aid from the Commission. So he has no business whatsoever telling the French how big their government should be.

But the larger point here, surely, is that Rehn has let the mask slip. It's not about fiscal responsibility; it never was. It was always about using hyperbole about the dangers of debt to dismantle the welfare state. How dare the French take the alleged worries about the deficit literally, while declining to remake their society along neoliberal lines?

There was a time when France was proud enough to stop such idiotic meddling in its affairs: Is there nothing that Olli Rehn can do or say that might get him sacked?

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A Sociological Experiment

by Frank Schnittger Tue Aug 20th, 2013 at 07:38:09 AM EST

Peoples sense of humour can vary enormously. What is funny to me may not appeal to you at all. I give you, below, the top ten one-liner jokes at this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Apparently the Chinese Wispa joke got almost 25% of the total votes for first place, but I find it only mildly funny. Please vote for one of the top ten below and let's see how the distribution of ET humour works out...

Have you heard the one about the funniest joke in Edinburgh?

Last year's funniest joke was from Stewart Francis, who said: "You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks."

In 2011, the best joke went to Nick Helm for his joke: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

The top ten jokes of the festival are:

1. Rob Auton - "I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa."

2. Alex Horne - "I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying."

3. Alfie Moore - "I'm in a same-sex marriage... the sex is always the same."

4. Tim Vine - "My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island. I said to him 'Don't be Sicily'."

5. Gary Delaney - "I can give you the cause of anaphylactic shock in a nutshell."

6. Phil Wang - "The Pope is a lot like Doctor Who. He never dies, just keeps being replaced by white men."

7. Marcus Brigstocke - "You know you are fat when you hug a child and it gets lost."

8. Liam Williams - "The universe implodes. No matter."

9. Bobby Mair - "I was adopted at birth and have never met my mum. That makes it very difficult to enjoy any lapdance."

10. Chris Coltrane - "The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately."

Alternatively, you can post, in the comments, a joke which really does appeal to you... The first prize is a free subscription to my new blog. The second prize is two free subscriptions...ok, ok, you heard that one before.

Comments >> (104 comments)

German Elections Open Thread

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 15th, 2013 at 07:42:25 AM EST

I don't follow German politics, and there is very little coverage of them in the media that I frequent, but it seems to me that the German election due on Sept. 22nd. could be pivotal for all of Europe. On the one hand we have Frau Merkel who seems to bestride the political stage like a giant and who leads her nearest rival, Peer Steinbrück, by a margin of 60 to 30% as the public's choice for Chancellor. On the other hand, we have a rag tag of parties without a coherent ideology or unifying principle.  

And yet I have a sense that Merkel could lose.   I would be interested in gaming out the possible outcomes, and above all, in informing myself of the possible policy implications, because Germany seems to be the key player in determining EU and Eurozone policy at the present time. With Ireland still under the heal of the Troika, the German election outcome will have more influence on Ireland's immediate political and economic future than any Irish election could or would.

According to recent opinion polls the standing of the parties is approximately as follows:

The key to me seems to be whether the FDP can surmount the 5% minimum required for parliamentary representation. Paradoxically, Merkel's popularity might make that more difficult. If they fail, she has lost her current and natural coalition partner and is down to c. 40% of the poll. The FDP always seem to be in trouble coming up to recent elections, and they always seem to make in in the end thanks to some CDU leaning voters voting tactically for them to keep them in the game. But if everybody expects them to make it, the reverse could also happen!

The most popular option for government is a Grand Coalition of the CDU/CSU with the SPD. But with Merkel so dominant, the SPD and Peer Steinbrück might be less than keen to play second fiddle this time around and so might seek to cobble together an alternative coalition with the Greens and even, shock horror, with Die Linke. Even if the FDP do achieve the 5% minimum, an SPD/Green/linke coalition currently stands at 47% of the vote compared to 45% for the current CDU/CSU/FDP coalition. But are Die Linke still off limits for Government participation in Germany?

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Dying for a mistake

by Frank Schnittger Wed Aug 14th, 2013 at 10:37:12 AM EST

Fintan O'Toole has long been one of the most prescient commentators on the Irish political scene. Here he is echoing what Krugman has been saying on the other side of the pond:

Who will be the last to suffer for the mistake of austerity?

In 1971, testifying before a US Senate hearing on the Vietnam war, John Kerry famously asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" We must ask a version of the same question: how do you ask a child or an elderly person to be the last one to suffer for a mistake?

First, the mistake. The Europe-wide obsession with so-called austerity is based on an admitted error. Our masters got their sums wrong. They believed the negative economic effects of cutting public spending would be very limited. They had faith in a magical notion called "expansionary fiscal contraction", which is just as absurdly self-contradictory as it sounds. This faith-based approach is a construction of economic "reality" no less ideologically-driven, and no more based on evidence, than the glorious triumphs of five-year plans in the old Soviet Union.

At the heart of this belief was a mathematical calculation. It suggested a billion euro taken out of the economy in an austerity budget would not reduce economic activity by a billion euro. The damage would amount only to €500 million. The market would somehow absorb half the hit. But these sums were simply and wildly wrong. After four years of austerity, the International Monetary Fund's economists flatly admitted the formula was rubbish. Instead of giving a €500 million hit to the economy, the billion euro in cuts causes €1.7 billion of damage. The sums were wrong by a factor of more than three.

This admission was made last September. In January, the two IMF economists who made the admission published a detailed paper showing why and how the calculations had been so wrong. And since then? Nothing. The official response has been to carry on cutting and to carry on telling the public the corner is just about to be turned. People must continue to suffer for a mistake.

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Please delete

by Frank Schnittger Mon Aug 12th, 2013 at 07:31:31 AM EST

.

May we never have to say goodbye

by Frank Schnittger Mon Aug 5th, 2013 at 04:51:39 PM EST

Shaun Davey is one of the greatest modern Irish composers combining a unique blend of traditional Irish and orchestral music often with the distinctive tones of Liam O'Flynn's uilleann Pipes and the beautiful singing of his wife, Rita Connolly. Here she is performing his Anthem for the Special Olympics, held in Ireland in 2003, May we never have to say goodbye:

More so, perhaps, than the much more commercially successful Riverdance by Bill Whelan or Enya's celtic inspired new age world music, Sean Davey's work represents a pivotal moment in the transformation of Irish folk music into a globally accessible orchestral sound.

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The Gender Backed Dollar

by Frank Schnittger Sat Aug 3rd, 2013 at 03:34:12 PM EST

I've long been an admirer of Paul Krugman's blogging style never mind his skills as an economist. I suspect it's his writing skills as much as his economic expertise which makes him just about the most influential US political and economic commentator this side of Rush Limbaugh; but he has really excelled himself with his latest piece: The She-Devil of Constitution Avenue

I've spent five years and more watching the inflationphobes, who weren't particularly sensible to begin with, descend into shrill unholy madness. They could have reacted to the failure of their predictions -- the continued absence of the runaway inflation they insisted was just around the corner -- by stepping back and reconsidering both their model and their recommendations. But no. At best, we see a proliferation of new reasons to raise interest rates in a depressed economy, with nary an acknowledgment that previous predictions were dead wrong. At worst, we see conspiracy theories -- we actually have double-digit inflation, but the BLS is spiriting the evidence away in its black helicopters and burying it in Area 51.


So at this point I thought I'd seen everything. But no: the prospect that Janet Yellen, a monetary dove, might become the next Fed chair has driven the right into a frenzy of -- well, words fail me. Jonathan Chait has the goods: the New York Sun ran an editorial titled The Female Dollar, warning about a "gender-backed currency". I kid you not.

And the Wall Street Journal thinks this was such a great analysis that it quotes the phrase, and argues at some length -- or, actually, asserts, since if there's a rational argument there I can't find it -- that the only possible reason people might want Yellen to succeed Bernanke is that she's not just a monetary dove but a woman.

And they have a point. After all, what possible non-gender case is there for Yellen? That is, aside from the fact that she's been a highly successful team player at the Fed, has a distinguished record as a research economist on the very issues she would have to deal with as chair, and, according to a recent assessment, has the best forecasting track record of 14 top Fed policymakers. Whose assessment? Um, the Wall Street Journal's.

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Corporate Censorship

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 10:04:51 AM EST

I have a letter published in today's Irish independent (Irelands largest selling daily newspaper). Unfortunately they left out most of the substance of the letter leaving only a slightly repetitive rump...
Save lives by making swimming safe - Independent.ie

* Twelve people have drowned whilst swimming in Ireland this past month - about as many as die on our roads in an average month. Telling people not to swim on our rare days of hot summer weather is akin to telling them not to use the roads. It might save some lives, but it is hardly realistic or practical advice.

So what is to be done? Ireland is almost alone in the world in not designating certain areas in every county as safe swimming areas and not employing lifeguards to help assure their safety.

Let's stop wringing our hands about the drownings and start doing something practical to prevent even more. Let's designate safe swimming areas in every county and employ lifeguards to make them even safer.

Frank Schnittger

The middle (unpublished) section of the letter read as follows:

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[Update] Ireland passes law permitting abortion with huge majority

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:00:23 AM EST


An anti-abortion protestor prays outside the Dail tonight as the amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill are debated. Photograph: Dave Meehan/Irish Times

[UPDATE 24/7/2013] The Irish Senate, the upper house of parliament, passed the legislation yesterday by 39 votes to 14. The Bill now goes to the President for signature or possible referral to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. [END UPDATE]

The Irish Government won the final Dáil (lower house) vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 by 127 votes to 31 today (11/7/2013)- a more than 80% majority despite vociferous opposition from the Catholic Bishops and pro-life groups such as the allegedly US right wing funded Youth Defence. This parliamentary vote accurately reflects the state of public opinion on the issue in Ireland at the moment. The Bill regulates the provision of an abortion where the life of the mother is substantially at risk, and includes the threat of suicide in the definition of what might constitute a substantial risk to the life of the mother in line with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the "Right to Life" clause of the Irish Constitution in the X case (1992).

It should be noted that 6 of the 31 Deputies who voted against the Bill did so because they believed it did not go far enough - making no provision for abortion in the case of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities (where a foetus has no chance of remaining viable later in pregnancy or after birth). Some were also concerned that the Bill's provision for a jail sentence of up to 14 years for procuring an abortion outside the terms of the Bill was unduly harsh and would have the effect of driving most women seeking an abortion to continue to travel to Britain.

An estimated 4,000 did so in 2012 and few people see this bill as having a major impact on that statistic in the future -despite claims by the pro-life movement that it will "open the floodgates" to abortion on demand in Ireland. Why would a women or her doctors risk criminal sanctions when an abortion can be legally procured in the UK without the onerous provisions of the Bill having to be complied with? In practice, only women in state care or who are too poor or to ill to travel are likely to apply for an abortion in Ireland under this Bill's provisions.

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The New Silk Road

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:42:28 AM EST

As major global corporates like HP move from seaboard to western China in search of ever cheaper labour costs they are faced with increased costs and time delays trucking their produce to Chinese ports and thence to major markets in Europe. Now the
 Kazakhstan rail network has become a major alternative route to market for China based manufacturers. It is still 25% more expensive than the sea route to Europe, but takes, on average less than 21 days, compared to 5 weeks for the sea route. The difference is significant for high value fast moving computer goods like tablet computers where inventory costs and time to market are critical. The Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus customs union has helped to reduce customs delays and pilferage and Kazakhstan has big plans to increase through traffic:
Hauling New Treasure Along the Silk Road

Kazakhstan forecasts that rail freight will grow to 7.5 million 40-foot containers by 2020, from just 2,500 transported from western China to Europe last year. That would be a huge increase that could sorely tax Kazakhstan's rail network; Mr. Alpysbayev said plans were under way to build extra tracks to help handle the traffic. But even at 7.5 million containers, rail freight transiting Kazakhstan would still be only a tenth of ocean freight between Europe and Asia.

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Catholic Bishops fighting losing battle in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 17th, 2013 at 07:15:04 AM EST


In Abortion in Ireland I gave a brief account of the background to various attempts to make abortion illegal in Ireland in all circumstances by introducing a constitutional right to life for the unborn. These attempts failed when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was lawful where there was a substantial risk to the life of the mother which could be alleviated by an abortion. Controversially, the Supreme Court included a threat of suicide in the definition of what could constitute a substantial threat to the life of the mother and this position was endorsed by two constitutional referendums (plebiscites) in 1992 and 2002.

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What price, Irish recovery?

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 31st, 2013 at 09:23:27 AM EST

Almost two years ago I wrote a diary called Light at the end of the tunnel? in which I posited the notion that the precipitous decline in Irish GDP and employment levels had halted and that there were some tentative signs of recovery on the horizon. Those green shoots have gradually taken root in the meantime not helped by a very difficult political and economic environment globally and in the Eurozone in particular.

Thus whilst Euro zone unemployment hits another record high, Irish employment has begun to rise, which, combined with net emigration, has begun to make a dent in the unemployment rate  which has declined from 14.1 per cent to 13.7 per cent in the first three months of this year. That this should be happening in the context of continuing government austerity, a continuing collapse of the construction industry, and slowing export growth in the face of Eurozone recession is all the more remarkable.

But we should be clear: this is no triumph for "expansionary austerity". Ireland's low corporate tax policies have continued to attract almost every major US multinational in the ICT, pharma and finance sectors to set up their European headquarters in Ireland, and to launder their European sales through the Irish corporate tax code. Tax competition seems to be working for Ireland as a recovery strategy, but it is hardly an option for the EU as a whole. Is Irish recovery at the price of contributing to global recession by allowing almost all incremental wealth to be hoovered up virtually tax free by global corporates?

To be fair, the nominal Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5% is close to the effective tax rate, and many countries with much higher nominal rates tax selected global corporations even less. But the real scandal has been the tax avoidance schemes used by some corporates such as the double Irish and Dutch sandwich which enable some corporates to pay almost no tax at all. Strangely, such arrangements, though well known for a considerable time now, seem to attract relatively little political and regulatory attention when compared to the focus on headline rates. Almost no effort has been made to close the tax loopholes in Irish, Dutch and US tax laws which make them possible even though it means that large corporates like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Google end up paying very little tax in any jurisdiction.

Now why ever could that be?

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